(1734-1815), Austrian physician, known for inducing a trancelike state, called mesmerism, as a curative agent. Mesmer was born near Constance, Germany, and educated at the University of Vienna. About 1772 he asserted the existence of a power, similar to magnetism, that exercises an extraordinary influence on the human body. This power he called animal magnetism, and in 1775 he published an account of his discovery, claiming that it had medicinal value. His theory of animal magnetism was based on an analogy with theories of magnetic force -a mysterious fluid - stored in certain metals. He held that human beings could be influenced by the application of magnets and that cures could be affected by the use of this fluid. Mesmer successfully used his new system, which was a type of hypnotism, to cure patients. His technique received some support among members of the medical profession. His curing methods were the use of kind of vessel called "baquet" which consisted of magnetic materials such as water, sand or glass. Further there were series of iron rods sticking out of it according to the number of patients. The people sat round this and applied the ends of the rods to their bodies. During these performances music was played and the patients became worked up until they had convulsions or collapsed. The climax of this process was called the "crisis" and was alleged to lead to the curing of the disease from which they suffered. The baquet was claimed to be an apparatus for containing and concentrating magnetic force.
In 1785 the French government was induced to appoint an investigative commission composed of physicians and scientists, but the committee's report was unfavourable to Mesmer's theory. Mesmer subsequently fell into disrepute and spent the rest of his life in obscurity. Since Mesmer's day the subject has been elevated from the domain of charlatanism to that of scientific research.